Girls can’t play with cars …

© TheBusyBrain (Stopped by Curiosity), via Wikimedia Commons

© TheBusyBrain (Stopped by Curiosity), via Wikimedia Commons

 

… in the same way as boys do. I have decided that this is one of life’s Universal Truths.

 

Here’s how a car-play session goes between Joe and Daddy:

Joe: Brrrrrrrmmm. BrrrrrRRRRMMMMM!!

Daddy: Brrrrrmmm. Rrrrmmmmm. BRRRRRUUUUMMMM!

Joe: ‘Again, again!’

Beams and nods. And repeat. Many times.

 

Now.  Here’s how a car-play session goes between Joe and Me:

Joe: Brrrrrrrmmm. BrrrrrRRRRMMMMM!!

Me: Brrrrrmmm. Rrrrmmmmm. BRRRRRUUUUMMMM!

Joe: ‘Not like THAT Mummy!’

Smashes cars together in frustration. Stomps off in a huff. (Joe, not me. Most of the time.)

 

Eh?

 

As a relatively self-aware Mum I know that I find it easier to relate to what are traditionally considered to be ‘Girl’ games. In the early days I used to try and encourage Joe to make a garage for his cars, and tuck them into bed. Naivety doesn’t even come close. In my simplistic mind it had worked for Ella so surely it was worth a try, right?

At some point it registered that Joe is a BOY. So I watched him playing with Daddy. And I made mental notes. And I tried very very hard to man-up my car-play:

  • I practiced my ‘BBRRRRRUUUUMMM’ in the shower. To amused looks from my other half.
  • I Googled ‘playing with toy cars’. Have you ever done this? Fascinating. And in some cases a bit, well, weird!
  • I watched Toy Story. Again.
  • I even crept into my boy’s room during school-time to have a play on my own in a desperate attempt to jettison any remaining awkwardness around all things mechanical.
  • I made myself available for motor-mania at every opportunity.

Things have improved without a doubt, but there is no getting away from it – Daddy-car-play is still preferable to Mummy-car-massacre in his eyes. Sigh. If Daddy’s not around then my pathetic attempts will generally suffice. Under sufferance, and amid much eye-rolling and fist-clenching from my boy. He’s very patient.

I used to think it was just me, but this weekend an impromptu session of Mum-therapy showed me I’m far from alone.

Dropping Joe off at a friend’s house for a birthday party I was corralled into joining the other Mums in their garden for a glass of the red stuff. Imagine. Relaxing on a Saturday afternoon instead of chipping ice off the freezer or getting tooled-up to do battle with the oven-spray. You know, they really had to twist my arm.

The party was in honour of a little pal of Joe’s who has just turned three (my boy is three-and-a-half). In a perfect reflection of text-book-preschoolers the group, which numbered four, spent a happy time largely ignoring each other. Until one decided it was time to play on the ride-on tractor. At which point cherry-picking, caterpillar-hunting, and random digging were simultaneously abandoned and the little men swarmed around the vehicular honey-pot in a mass of grubby knees and pointy-elbows.

We Mummy-guests offered objective support from a distance in our bubble of relief while the resident Mum exercised her parental muscles to resolve the conflict with a lesson in sharing and a fair degree of small-boy-lifting and re-siting (who needs kettlebells?). Re-filling her wine glass we did the empathy thing and then collectively reflected on boys and their toys.

To a woman we have all experienced the car-play scenario above. Many many many times. And it seems impossible to resolve, despite our best creative attempts.

I’m sure there are Mums out there whose car-play is to the satisfaction of their young male offspring. but now I know I’m not entirely alone I don’t feel so bad. I do my best. In car-play with my boy, in character-play with my girl. And every single time I do anything remotely child-related. That’s what being a parent is about after all. No instructions, no rule book. Just a terrifying fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants ride where the only thing you can do with any certainty is – your best. The odd cry of ‘Vive la différence!’ works too.

And so does the odd glass of red.

 

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Beware of the Tut-Tut

© Jacqueline Godany – Via WikiCommons

A gaggle of Mums hovered at the gates of my children’s school this morning, as they do every morning. I’m not your average ‘part-of-the-clique’ Mum but I break into the buzz from time-to-time to show willing and because I know it’s important for my kids that I engage in at least some parental networking. Part of my struggle is the fact that, despite my admirable grasp of the French language after ten years here, I do still struggle with the quick-fire-partial-slang conversations that define the communications of a casual group setting such as this. Mostly I listen, and nod, and say ‘Oui!’ a lot. It seems to work. The hum today was focused on one little girl, let’s call her Jane. She’s six, and every morning and evening arrives and departs with her parent/granny/guardian with a dummy in her mouth.

That’s right, a dummy.

Not uncommon in preschoolers hereabouts in fact, but six is at the upper limit of what I’ve seen. The Mummy-hum this misty morning was erring towards disapproval. The tut-tutting was audible. Even as I nodded to fit in I hated myself for bowing to peer pressure and partaking in this judgmental exchange. And I despised myself more when the thought crossed my mind that they may have a point. Surely six is too old for a dummy?

Well hell, who am I to decide that? Or anyone else? Society and parental peer pressure have a lot to answer for.

Kids have so much to cope with as they grow up. If they can derive small comfort from something like a dummy then why berate them for it? I totally get the development position on this – excess use can damage tooth growth, speech patterns, and so on. But for all we know this little girl’s dummy is only used on the school-run and at no other time. And even if it’s not, what business is it of ours?

The whole comforter issue is fresh in my mind this week, as at six-and-a-half years old my girl has entered the last stages of separation from her Teds. These two once-pink-now-grubby-grey-and-chewed cuties have been with her since birth, and have soothed her through every single childhood trauma so far. She went to bed twice in the last week WITHOUT THEM and didn’t care. Not long ago such an event would have unleashed a tsunami of distraught emotion that would have rendered all other activities invalid until Teds were located and installed in her arms. I know of other children who reached this happy-to-separate stage ages ago, at four or even three years old. Was I worried? Not a jot. I encourage my girl to be independent but if she wants and needs her Teds then she has them. And will continue to have them for as long as SHE wants them.

Childhood peer pressure seems to start at around eight years old. Little Jane will doubtless drop the dummy habit before then, and if she doesn’t, well all power to her single-mindedness. It’s hard not to judge others. I try not to – I don’t always succeed, but I’m mindful of it, and how little we can really know of anyone’s whole story. If I hear my kids making comments about someone that have an air of judgement about them, I instigate a conversation about the difference between opinion and judgement, and how damaging and hurtful the latter can be.

They may not really get it yet, but if I can help them to beware of the tut-tut as they grow I hope it will contribute to the development of their self-respect, and respect for those around them.

 

Living in Mid-Air

Mid-Air People

 

My daughter has quite an abstract approach to art. Her selections of shapes and colours are bold, and spill across the page in a confident mass. The balance in her drawings is quite startling for one so young and I suspect reflects her (sometimes over-) developed sense of fairness. Which itself becomes particularly apparent in circumstances where she perceives favour to be weighed against her!

Gluing a tiny selection of her prolific productions into a scrapbook for posterity, I was taken by one that depicted her and little brother either side of a house. The space around them was festooned with love hearts, and colours for each figure carefully chosen to represent their favourites of the moment (pink for Ella, blue for Joe).

What struck me particularly was the way both figures were suspended in the air. Despite there being a careful line for grass, an equally horizontal bar of blue above, and the house being firmly rooted on the ground, the children were shown suspended in the No Man’s Land of white horizon, as if at the top of a bounce on a trampoline. Grinning madly.

It’s a happy picture – most of her drawings are. Thankfully. I always remember that scene in Sixth Sense where the little boy says he draws rainbows instead of the images of horrific violence that were haunting him, in order to satisfy the school therapists – ‘They don’t have meetings about rainbows’. Guess we’re doing something right then.

Anyway, I digress. Suspended people. What’s that all about? I began to fester …

Does she feel ungrounded? Without a firm base in life? Is she watching too many Fairy movies and genuinely thinks people can fly?

Or did she just start drawing the heads too high up on the page and not want to make the legs look stupidly long? I suspect this last is true. Or maybe I’m kidding myself and she is less secure that I’d care to imagine. Guess I’ll never know for sure so should quit worrying and get a life!

On reflection I think this picture is a perfect example of how our kids are not yet bound by the constraints of knowledge that dogs us as adults. It’s a freedom I’m keen for her to retain in her arsenal of art techniques. And I hope she can grow to apply this freedom of thought to her life.

Imagine the impossible.

Dare to dream.

Convention is creeping in as her depictions of grass and sky squeeze ever closer together. But for now, mid-air people are very okay in her world. Long may that last.

It’s been a while …

Welcome to June. Okay, so it’s nearly over already, but when I finally dragged myself back here today I was shocked to see that nine months have passed since my last post. Three quarters of a year in which I’ve been busy. A full gestational term during which my five year old became six, and my toddler became a preschooler. Eeek!

So where have I been? Every time I sat down to write, something felt wrong. So I procrastinated. I clean floors, tidied round, found (Shock! Horror!) OTHER WORK to do. Today the problem finally clicked. Over the months I’ve realised that my passion for Kiddiespace’ as an idea is about more than just ‘doing’ – it’s about celebrating the way in which our kids feel and experience life in general too, and how we, as parents, interact and engage with them in that. My self-imposed frame for the blog was stopping me from writing what I wanted to write. How un-creative is that?

And so I’m back, and my focus has shifted a little – the remit of Kiddiespace is no longer just about doing stuff (although that remains really important!). It’s also a place for reflecting on the space our kids inhabit, and our role as parents in helping them grow into that space and blossom as human beings in their own right.

A place where Kiddie and Parent spaces collide.

 

 

Do the Strop

© Creatista | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Creatista | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Do you ever feel like smiling when your kids are acting out?  I know that might sound like a weird reaction, but if yours are anything like mine, you may relate to this.  From time to time their attempts at throwing the mother of all strops result in me catching a fit of the giggles.  I could laugh until my sides split at some of the oh so serious faces they pull.  I appreciate that this is not the response of a sensitive and nurturing parent.  But I’m only human.  And their expressions are to die for.  And on some days I feel I am touching hysteria myself.

Admittedly I restrain myself if I sense their outburst is coming from a place of deep upset.  And this can be in relation to the simplest of things.  My daughter erupted the other day because little brother had disrupted the precision-made fairy bed she had set up on the coffee table, complete with acorn cups.  She was seriously affronted and close to acute internal devastation.  Clearly, a light chuckle from me was not appropriate at this juncture.

Yet sometimes … well, frankly they are just faking.

And they know it, and I know it.

And they know that I know it.

A gentle upturn of the corner of my mouth is enough to reveal the true nature of their actions, as they invariably redouble their efforts to gain my attention, with a challenging look in their eyes that dares me to proceed.  So I do.  For these instances I have developed an effective arsenal of responses:

  • A skeptical look and a grin – is often enough to diffuse the situation and send them happily away to seek out mischief elsewhere
  • Pulling their face back at them and then laughing out loud – shows them how ridiculous they look, and can lead to a fun gurning session
  • A declaration of war – in the form of a challenging “You are SO faking right now!” can often set them giggling too.  When swiftly followed by tickling and a little play-fight this settles things down nicely
  • I do the Strop – depending on the severity and nature of the fake, the kids have a great line in hopping from foot to foot, or stamping their feet.  Copying this can infuriate or delight them in equal measure, but usually makes them laugh in the end.  One time my girl actually went on to make a little dance routine out of it.  This, of course, was a very serious business.  No chuckling allowed.

Some days life can feel a little heavy.  I like to lighten the mood when I can, and most of the time the children appreciate this.  At least, I think they do!  I’m sure they’ll let me know when they have therapy later in life.  By which time I’ll be so old I won’t care, and will have perfected my own version of the geriatric strop.  Funny how life goes full circle!

For Granny …

© seyed mustafa zamani, via Wikimedia Commons

My Mum has been visiting this last week, she left for home this morning.  We see her maybe 5 or 6 times each year.  I miss her.  The children love her.  She is awesome.  We’re all feeling a bit low tonight, so here is a little poem to let her, and Grandparents everywhere, know how much they are loved, and the hole they leave behind when they have to go home.  Love you Mum xxx

 Granny, when you come and stay

Our  smiles they spread out wide,

You’re always there to play with us

At the park, on the swing, on the slide.

Granny, you don’t mind if we

Want to cover you in leaves,

You lay down happy as a lamb

If it makes us smile, you’re pleased.

Granny, you will paint and make

And dance and sing and more,

And even when you tell us off

We love you to the core.

Granny, you will always come

With lots of gifts and toys,

We love them all, but to have you here

Is the very best present of all.

Granny, we know that when you’re here

Our Mummy’s happy too,

She loves you lots and when you’re gone

She’s sad, just like we two.

Granny, when you snuggle up

Beside us on the chair,

We hug in tight and treasure it

Tomorrow you won’t be there.

Granny, when you leave for home

Our smiles they shrink, we cry,

We miss you when you’re not around

Please come back soon, do try!

Do Squirrels Like Sweets?

© Paul Whippey (Own work) – via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s philosophical question – Do Squirrels like sweets?  Okay, so this may be a bit heavy for a Sunday afternoon, but bear with me …

I was sitting doing some peaceful colouring at the kitchen table with my 2.5 year old son, when a red blur streaked past the window arresting the attention of us both.  We looked up the garden.  Nothing there.  We peered around the wall.  Nope, nothing there either.  Joe scratched his head.  He wondered if it was the deer we saw yesterday, lazily chewing dandelion stalks up the field until Joe gave a friendly but loud shout of “Hello Deer!”, and scared the poor creature half to death.  It bounced its way back into the forest in a blink.  Joe cried.

With his interest piqued again today, and keen to make amends to the terrified deer, my boy was not to be deterred from his quest to find the red streak.  So, rainbow picture abandoned, we embarked on a tour of the garden and land.  Minutes later, whilst he and I were knee deep investigating a particularly large molehill, Ella appeared breathlessly from the terrace full of excitement about the red squirrel she had just encountered en route to the front of the house.  From her account of the meeting the unfortunate squirrel was apparently subjected to an equally loud exclamation of some form, and set off for cover in a similar manner to the deer.  In any event, mystery solved.

“It’s a squirrel Joe!  A Squirrel!” she cried.

Joe didn’t look convinced.

“We need to make it a bed a give it some food,” announced my girl, ever the homemaker.

“Can’t me chase it?” asked Joe.

“No, that will scare it,” counselled Ella.

“Oh,” said Joe, beaten.

I left them to it, Ella marshalling Joe into finding grass and leaves for a soft bed, and collecting freshly fallen walnuts from around the two trees that annually shed their crop on our field.  In the early years here we used to collect, dry, store and eat them.  Then we realised that each year the crop was so large we were ending up with a growing (and wasteful) stockpile, so we now only harvest a few kilos each year, and leave the rest to the wildlife.  This keeps the squirrels very busy, and the children entertained.  But that was 12 months ago now, and they have forgotten all over again.

I supplied bowls for water, and shelled walnuts “in case the little squirrels don’t have sharp enough teeth, Mummy.”

All thoughts of the deer forgotten, they worked industriously, and both finally appeared in the kitchen, cheeks glowing with the freshness of the wet autumn day and muddy wellies tracking their progress across the floor.

“Come and look!” said Ella.  So I did.  I found a delightful little haven nestled between two planters.

“The squirrels in our garden are very lucky,” I said.  They beamed.

“I think they need sweets, to give them energy,” attempted Ella.  Nothing to do at all with the fact that this would necessitate breaking open the candy tub, from which she and her patient little brother would surely deserve a treat for being SO nice to the squirrels.  It was nearly lunchtime.

“No,” I said, decisively.  “Squirrels don’t like sweeties.”

“How do you know Mummy?” was the reply ….

Well, actually I don’t.  And I’m not likely to find out anytime soon, as the lunchtime deadline held fast, despite the hard-done-to protestations.

But her question did get me thinking …..!